There’s a lot of pressure that comes up during the holidays. We run around looking for deals, mailing letters to Santa, and trying to make the house look perfect for all of the family members who will be coming to visit.
We want so desperately to make good memories for our kids and we dread the conversation with that one family member who we know is likely to do something embarrassing or cause serious stress.
In this post, you’ll read about how to avoid arguments during the Christmas festivities. We’ll use healthy relationship skills 101 to reduce conflict so that you have the room to celebrate Christmas as the feast day it is. With these tips you can happily rock through the holiday season like a boss.
1. Be Proactive
You’re going to have a better outcome if you plan ahead of time. Think about the family members whom you get along with better than others. Think about the family members who make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Plan, in your mind, who will be the family members you look for when you’ve reached your limit. When that one stress-inducing uncle tells one too many off-color jokes, be prepared to scan the room and make a bee-line to the cousin you can’t wait to catch up with.
Remember, plan ahead. In order to not leave the conversation awkwardly, make sure you know what you’re going to say. It might be something like, “Oh Uncle Joe, you’re too much! (lighthearted) I’m going to walk over to Monica and catch up with her.”
Better yet, if you really want to guide the conversation (like a boss) you could say, “Oh Uncle Joe, you’re too much! Can we have some more positive jokes to get us into the Christmas spirit?” He may be likely to refuse, but that friendly challenge might be enough to make Uncle Joe think about his actions, at least for one second.
Congratulations. Walk over to cousin Monica with the satisfaction of knowing you just made it through a round of torture without it turning into an argument.
2. Lower Your Expectations
We put so much pressure into one evening, one meal, one day, one family gathering, one holiday tradition, that when something does not go as planned we feel as if it was a catastrophe.
Instead of putting so much hope into one single event, why not remind yourself of the broader meaning of the holiday? Or even all the other ways that your life has meaning?
What is Christmas about? Yes, Jesus’ birth. But what does Jesus’ birth have to do with us? What can we remember about the birth of Christ to take the pressure off? We celebrate this day to be grateful for the ultimate gift, not just family, but being welcomed into God’s family through Jesus.
If you’re not comfortable reflecting on Jesus, what about the other meaningful areas of your life? Are you blessed with health, a home, a job, friends, adorable children? What are the memories you create with your family every other day of the year that you’re grateful for?
When your mother makes a comment about the career you’ve chosen, it doesn’t have to ruin Christmas. Her criticism of your career has nothing to do with the level of satisfaction that you’ve received throughout the rest of the year. Her approval of your career (or anything else) has nothing to do with what you may feel called to do with your life and what you’ve accomplished.
Another example of pressure is when people try to “save” a troubled family member. Is Christmas really the only opportunity to save your little brother? Sure, he constantly makes one horrible decision after another, and you want so badly for him to turn his life around, but what makes you think he’s going to change his life in just 1 day or even 1 week?
I know it would be great to have your mom jump up and down with excitement at what’s important to you. We all long for our parent’s love and approval, even as adults. And it would be great if your brother decided to stop couch surfing in sketchy strangers’ homes, but that may never happen.
Your happiness during the holidays does not have to be dependent on Mom’s random opinion or your brother’s ability to maintain a job (Remember the broader meaning of Christmas?). If it is, you may want to consider speaking to a professional about this more in depth.
I’m not implying that Christmas is not important, but the more you’re able to mentally treat Christmas just like any other day of the year, and focus on why it’s meaningful to you, the less likely you are to be devastated when something hurtful is said or done.
3. Keep Your Cool
Count to 10. It’s common advice and you hear it so often because it works! Go ahead, give it a try… 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9… 10… See how long that takes? The next time your mother-in-law goes behind you to clean the dishes you’ve already cleaned, count to 10.
Consider if it is beneficial to say anything in that moment. Take those few extra seconds to decide if it is worth it to tell her how you can’t stand how little she thinks of your cleaning abilities.
Those 10 seconds could be the difference between Christmas ending in disaster or minor discomfort. By the end of counting, you may decide, “You know what, it’s not worth it” and go about your business. You might even be over it by the time you get to 10.
When you notice yourself getting irritated, count to 10. If anything, it’s an opportunity to calm down before you say something you regret. Regret ≠ a rockin’ holiday.
4. Err on the Side of Compassion
I know, this is a difficult one. Scripture asks us to, “strive for peace with everyone.” Maybe you’re tired and irritated from all of the cooking you had to do. Maybe you’re disappointed that you do not have a closer relationship with your father (or another family member). Try to think about the difficulty from the family member’s perspective. Did she complain about the food because she’s socially awkward? Did your dad not have a relationship with his father?
When we give others the benefit of the doubt, that can help us to calm down and not feel as regretful or upset.
To take it a step further, think about something you admire about that difficult family member. I’ve suggested this to many of my clients. Let’s give it a try. If it is your father, there has to be at least one good quality about him (everyone has at least one). Maybe there is even a positive side to the very thing that annoys you to death!
For example, if your teen questions every rule and boundary you set, the positive side would be that as an adult your teen may not be easily swayed by others.
If you make sure you are the first to smile and the first to apologize you set the tone for how the holidays will go. Rather than reacting to situations as they arise, you are the one in control because you decided from the beginning that you would err on the side of compassion as opposed to suspicion.
If you think this will be too difficult of a task, speak to a trusted friend, family member, or spiritual leader who you believe can give you some perspective, or even a pep talk.
5. It’s Not About You
If the conversation starts to get a little tense, this is important to keep in mind if you want to keep the stress levels low. Even though your sister thinks you need to lose weight to meet a man. Even though your Aunt always has something to say about how you should discipline your children, it’s not about you.
Even if they were to say, “Hey, I’m talking to you.” It’s still not about you.
Most of the time people don’t realize how offensive and hurtful they are being. When they do realize, know that it is all about them and has nothing to do with you. There’s a good chance there are issues from their past that are influencing their behavior and impacting their perspective. Whether they feel insecure or have a lack confidence in relating to people, whether they truly thought they were being helpful and had no idea how offensive they sounded, it all usually points back to them.
Rest assured knowing that even if a relative brings up a sore subject, it’s NOT about you! Let it roll off of your back. Try not to take it personally. More often than not, it’s due to something going on with them. The more you can remember that, the more you can continue to rock on.
6. Know Your Limits
Despite using all of these tricks, depending on your family situation, you still may find a need to take some space.
Knowing your limits is in line with being proactive. Do you know your emotional “point of no return?” What is the moment that you are upset beyond consolation? The time that you will be set off and can’t be calmed down?
Think about all of the things that happen physiologically for you at the point of no return. If you catch yourself clenching your jaw right before you lash out at a family member, or if you notice that you clear your throat frequently when you’re uncomfortable, these could be signs that you’re at your limit.
When you notice these signs, take some space. Leave the room or speak with a family member who is relaxing to be around. Find time to calm down and re-energize. When you take space, you have more energy to withstand those difficult situations.
In addition to knowing your personal limits, consider the limits of your nuclear family. Be prepared to set firm and fair boundaries with family members. Is there so much conflict and dysfunction that it would be better to stay at a hotel? If staying at a hotel is not an option, is there an activity you can plan for just you and your spouse or the kids that can give you a break away from the extended family?
Be aware of the moments that are most difficult for you. Once you’re able to identify them, you can plan ways to combat them so you don’t feel so discouraged and overwhelmed.
If you can keep these tips in mind, you’ll feel more satisfied with how holiday family time unfolds. Drop that mic because you’ll be rockin’ the holidays with all get out. Keep Calm and Holiday On.